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Sneezing, scratchy throat and runny nose are probably the most common illness known. Although the common cold is usually mild, with symptoms lasting 1 to 2 weeks, it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work.
More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of the common cold. Some, such as the rhinoviruses, seldom produce serious illnesses. Others, such as parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus, produce mild infections in adults but can lead to severe lower respiratory tract infections in young children. There is no evidence that you can get a cold from exposure to cold weather or from getting chilled. However, cold weather may prompt people to spend more time indoors and increase the chances that viruses will spread to you from someone else. Seasonal changes in relative humidity also may affect the prevalence of colds. The most common cold-causing viruses survive better when humidity is low—the colder months of the year. Cold weather also may make the inside lining of your nose drier and more vulnerable to viral infection.
You can get infected by cold viruses by either of these methods.
There is no cure for the common cold, but you can get relief from your cold symptoms by
A word of caution
Several studies have linked aspirin use to the development of Reye’s syndrome in children recovering from flu or chickenpox. Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious illness that usually occurs in children between the ages of 3 and 12 years. It can affect all organs of the body but most often the brain and liver. While most children who survive an episode of Reye’s syndrome do not suffer any lasting consequences, the illness can lead to permanent brain damage or death. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children and teenagers not be given aspirin or medicine containing aspirin when they have any viral illness such as the common cold.
Over-the-counter cold medicines
Nonprescription cold remedies, including decongestants and cough suppressants, may relieve some of your cold symptoms but will not prevent or even shorten the length of your cold. Moreover, because most of these medicines have some side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, insomnia, or upset stomach, you should take them with care.
Questions have been raised about the safety of nonprescription cold medicines in children and whether the benefits justify any potential risks from the use of these products in children, especially in those under 2 years of age. Recently, a Food and Drug Administration panel recommended that nonprescription cold medicines not be given to children under the age of 6, because cold medicines do not appear to be effective for these children and may not be safe.
Nonprescription antihistamines may give you some relief from symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes, which are symptoms commonly associated with colds.
Never take antibiotics to treat a cold because antibiotics do not kill viruses. You should use these prescription medicines only if you have a rare bacterial complication, such as sinusitis or ear infection. In addition, you should not use antibiotics “just in case,” because they will not prevent bacterial infections.
Although inhaling steam may temporarily relieve symptoms of congestion, health experts have found that this approach is not an effective treatment.